It was good news the city has been waiting on for a very long time.
On July 22, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) gave the city of White Salmon final approval to begin using water from the new water filtration plant on Buck Creek.
"We've looked at the data submitted by Mike Wellman (the city's former director of the Public Works Department) on July 15 for the slow sand filters," explained Andres Cervantes, an engineer with the DOH drinking water office in Spokane Valley. "The data shows the filters have met the criteria outlined by DAH for start-up -- indicating the water produced by the Buck Creek Slow Sand Filter can be safely turned into the distribution system and provided to residents of White Salmon."
The move means the city will now be able to end its reliance on two wells, which were declining in output because the aquifer they tapped into were not keeping up with demand.
On Friday, the city's Public Works Department was already switching White Salmon's water intake from the wells to Buck Creek.
"You can sure taste the difference," said White Salmon Mayor David Poucher. "I think it tastes a lot better, and the water is a lot softer than the well water."
Cervantes pointed out that testing showed the city met the criteria for water quality during tests on May 28 and June 4. Those tests showed the plant filtered out more than 95 percent of the total coliform in the water, with a 90 percent reduction being the minimum target.
"The Department of Health has given us final approval. What it means is, we have the supply of water we need," said Poucher. "I'm on Cloud Nine. We now have an adequate supply of water."
According to Poucher, the city is putting the wells on standby status.
"We will let the wells recharge," Poucher said. "The wells are working half-time or less now."
Poucher made clear the DOH's approval does not immediately eliminate all the city's water constraints.
"We're still in the moratorium," Poucher said. "This does not lift the moratorium or end our conservation efforts."
Cervantes added that final approval of the "slow sand" filtration plant will not result in a corresponding increase in the total number of approved water connections the city will be allowed to have.
"In previous e-mails and correspondence, the necessary steps for increasing the total number of approved connections were outlined," Cervantes noted.
Poucher explained that the city is still waiting on another state agency, the Washington Department of Ecology, to issue the new water rights that will allow additional water connections to be provided.
"We expect that approval by the end of August at the latest," Poucher said.
The city of White Salmon recently purchased 500 acre-feet of water from the Klickitat Public Utility District, because the PUD had excess water rights in the wake of the closure of the aluminum plant in Goldendale several years ago.
"That's our new water right. That's the last step," said Poucher. "We will use the water rights we purchased from the PUD to mitigate our consumption of water. We had 688 acre-feet of water; now we will have 1,100 or 1,200 acre-feet. We have tons of water."
Poucher praised the way the state agencies have worked to help the city finally get the water it needs.
"It was truly tremendous working with DOH," Poucher pointed out. "They said, `let's work as partners,' and they worked with us. The city of White Salmon and the state had a common goal -- get the citizens of White Salmon safe drinking water."
He added that he appreciated the hands-on role of the governor's office in helping to secure a new supply of water for the city.
"When we do our dedication (of the Buck Creek water treatment plant) in August, we'll definitely invite Gov. Gregoire -- she was instrumental in this," Poucher said.